Irish midwives and nurses join doctors in abortion bill protest

taoiseach The office of the Taoiseach in Dublin, Ireland. | Daniel M Bradley_Shutterstock

A pro-life association of nurses and midwives in the Republic of Ireland is joining a growing number of concerned voices who say that many Irish medical professionals are unwilling to take part in abortions, and that the country is ill-prepared to begin offering abortion services starting Jan. 1, 2019.

"As nurses and midwives we echo the concerns of obstetricians and gynaecologists in relation to the rush to introduce abortion provision...We are the unheard voices in the health service," a Dec. 10 statement from the group Nurses & Midwives 4 Life Ireland reads.  

"We have not been consulted and we will be directly impacted by the new legislation. We are worried about the impact this bill will have and the safety of women when we have not had any guidance from our professional body or our union."

The group is reacting to the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Bill 2018, which would permit abortion services throughout the country. It passed the Irish House (Dáil Éireann) on Dec. 5 and is before the Senate (Seanad) for debate this week.

The bill was introduced after voters repealed the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution in a referendum vote in May. The amendment had established legal protection for the unborn, and its repeal paved the way for the country to legalize abortion.

The legislation, introduced by Irish Health Minister Simon Harris, would establish that abortions performed early in pregnancy would ordinarily be undertaken by general practitioners. It would require pro-life healthcare professionals to provide abortion referrals, though not to perform them.

Some 500 nurses and midwives have signed a petition calling on Harris to consult Nurses & Midwives 4 Life and the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organization, and to support freedom of conscience amendments for the new law.

At least 640 general practitioners in Ireland signed a petition in November objecting to the obligation of referring patients to other doctors for abortions. A March survey of Irish healthcare professionals found that that nearly 70 percent of general practitioners in Ireland are unwilling to perform abortions.

At the general meeting of the Irish College of General Practitioners last week, a group of GPs walked out in the middle of the meeting out in protest, saying the government had not listened to their concerns.

Some doctors have called for an "opt-in" rather than an "opt-out" system for doctors regarding abortion services. Harris has criticized the "opt-in" approach, which is supported by the National Association of General Practitioners. In June, the group of 2,000 practitioners unanimously voted in favor of the "opt-in" method.

Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar said Dec. 10 that "like any new service [abortion] is not going to be a case of just flicking a switch and one day there is no service and the next day it's [100%] available."

"It will have to be rolled out, it will have to be phased in, but we're confident it will be available in January," Varadkar was quoted as saying in The Independent.

"It may not be available in every single hospital and every single place, but the service will be available," he said.

Varadkar stated in June that Catholic hospitals would not be allowed to opt out of performing abortions under the new law, though individual doctors would be.

Bishop Kevin Doran of the Diocese of Elphin on Dec. 10 urged doctors, nurses, teachers and pharmaceutical workers to resist the new law, and to disobey it if necessary, The Independent reports. Doran encouraged doctors, nurses and midwives who oppose abortion to unite in opposition to the proposed new laws.

In October the Irish bishops called the draft bill "an affront to conscience," noting that although the bill allows doctors and nurses to opt out of performing abortions, it nonetheless requires them to refer refer the patient to a doctor or nurse who will perform the procedure.

The Irish bishops issued another statement last week that reaffirmed their stance, saying that the abortion bill cannot be supported in good conscience.

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The bishops noted that the bill proposes abortions undertaken in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy will generally be chemically induced.

"This presumes that pharmacists, whether in hospitals or in private practice, will routinely stock and dispense drugs whose specific purpose is to end human life. No provision is made for pharmacists to opt out on the grounds of conscientious objection," the bishops wrote.

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